Growing up, Aurora Perrineau must have thought she knew privilege. The eldest daughter of actors Harold Perrineau (Lost, Oz, Romeo + Juliet) and Brittany Perrineau (Felon, Saving Face), she was a raised in Hollywood and came of age as a pretty young thing with, presumably, wealth and industry connections. An aspiring actress since her teen years, she probably felt confidently at ease partying with other child stars and scions, the kind to whom bouncers and bartenders would frequently turn a blind eye when they showed up at adults-only places like 1OAK and Bootsy Bellows.
Get more on TIME's "Silence Breakers" Person of the Year feature with BET Breaks, above.
One imagines that to be the atmosphere when, in 2012, a 17-year-old Aurora turned up at the bar at the Standard Hotel in Hollywood to have some drinks with friends. Murray Miller, an accomplished screenwriter and producer then in his late 30s, was also there. “He was flirting with me. I told him repeatedly that I was 17 years old,” Aurora told police this past fall, when she filed a police report against Murray. Claiming he was drunk, Murray allegedly asked Aurora and her friends for a ride home. The teenagers complied. According to her statement, Aurora says she hesitated at the time, but “felt like I had to go along with everyone else.”
What happened next, it sounds like, was a blur. “At some point, I woke up in Murray’s bed naked. He was on top of me having sexual intercourse with me. At no time did I consent to any sexual contact with Murray,” she said in the statement.
Sometime in the moments, days, weeks, months or years that followed, Aurora likely experienced a different kind of coming of age, one that most women eventually do: the realization that we could, at any time and in any place, be harassed or assaulted by a man. Without knowing the specifics of her circumstances, beyond what can be read in police reports and her publicly available statements, one can assume she also felt silenced. Murray enjoyed a certain level of power in Hollywood: as a white male, a writer on a hit HBO television show called GIRLS and an executive producer on two others (American Dad and King of the Hill), he was, by any metric, higher on the “food chain” than either herself or her parents. Speaking out against him, she must have known implicitly, would come at a cost to her own career, and perhaps even her father’s.
Flash forward five years, to the dawn of the #MeToo movement, when women are feeling emboldened, en masse, to speak up about present and past sexual abuse and name their accusers. They are emerging from the woodworks and finding solidarity. Perhaps that was the atmosphere that encouraged Aurora to go public with her story, to name Murray as her rapist, and to file a police report with the hope of bringing him to justice.
And that’s when she might have faced her second dose of harsh reality: being a Black woman seeking solidarity from white feminists. Murray’s reaction to Aurora going public with her story should come as no surprise: he did what accused rapists do with absolute predictability. He unleashed his lawyers to paint her as a slut and an opportunist, claiming they had “overwhelming evidence” she tried extort money from him and only went to the cops when she was unsuccessful in doing so. He was the victim here.
But what Aurora probably wasn’t counting on was the other secret weapon Murray had in his pocket: his friends Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner, self-proclaimed feminists who, just a week prior to Aurora going public with her allegations, tweeted that “all women should be believed” about sexual assault:
But what Dunham failed to mention is that what they meant to say is, “all WHITE women should be believed.”
It's easy to imagine that, perhaps for the first time in her life, Aurora Perrineau learned she is a Black girl. I mean that in that double consciousness sort of way that all people of color “see” themselves for the first time through the eyes of white society. Privileged or not, Hollywood Royalty or not, light-skinned or not, Aurora Perrineau is a Black girl. And she messed with the wrong White man.
Dunham has a history of casual racism (or, as her whistle-blowing colleague Zinzi Clemmons later called it, “hipster racism”), and this “defense” of Murray at the expense of a young Black woman’s credibility is full of white privilege and dog whistles.
“While our first instinct is to listen to every woman’s story, our insider knowledge of Murray’s situation makes us confident that sadly this accusation is one of the 3% of assault cases that are misreported every year.”
Let’s be clear: “insider knowledge” is just a fancy way of saying white privileged access only — especially when it comes to hearing and believing stories of women of color who are calling out your friends. What’s more, by bringing up the “3% of assault cases that are misreported every year” and lumping Aurora in with those questionable and impossible to verify statistics, is subtly validating the notion that it’s women of color who lie about sexual abuse. Here’s another statistic for you, Lena:
According to the Women of Color Network, "African American females experience intimate partner violence at a rate 35% higher than that of white females, and about 2.5 times the rate of women of other races. However, they are less likely than white women to use social services, battered women’s programs, or go to the hospital." They are also less likely to be believed when they report sexual violence.
The backlash against Dunham’s utterly tone deaf and irresponsible tweet was so swift, so absolute, you really have to marvel at the echochamber she must live in to have posted it in the first place. Of course, an “apology” quickly followed:
It didn’t even mention Aurora’s name.
But Dunham’s apology is wholly besides the point. Literally one day after TIME magazine announced their Person of the Year as the Silence Breakers, a.k.a. all the women who have spoken up about their sexual assaults, news broke Miller and his lawyers were “retracting” their allegation that Aurora had tried to extort money from him before going to the police and filing charges that he raped her. It was a mistake made in “good faith,” Murray’s lawyers said.
Okay, sure. Because calling someone a liar in the press, tarnishing her reputation by falsely accusing her of extortion — while conveniently earning you the benefit of the doubt from some very powerful people — sounds exactly like an honest-to-God mistake to me.
Actually, Murray’s lawyers wanted us to believe the worst about Aurora, that she was a fame whore after Murray’s money, and that he was the victim here. And — let’s be honest — a lot of people were ready to believe them.
But we believe Aurora. Full stop, end of sentence, no further statistics or “insider knowledge” necessary. We also believe in “good faith” that the world doesn’t really listen when we women of color speak up, out, or shout #metoo. And now, Aurora Perrineau, a mixed Black woman who was called a liar by both the patriarchy and one of white feminism’s leaders, deserves justice.
Where is Lena Dunham’s voice now that her “friend” has admitted to lying on her supposed “sister”? Who is demanding that Murray be stripped of his WGA status and fired from his jobs? Ostracized from writers’ rooms and forced to give a legal deposition about his misdeeds?
It’s time to address the problem of systemic power at play that allows two white individuals to make up the truth as it serves them and have society fall in line behind it.
And, this time, we are confidently calling bullshit on it.
(Oh, and Lena, it might be a good time to delete your tweets.)
(Photo from left: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images, Jason Kempin/Getty Images for NYLON)